Robert Lewandowski and Ansu Fati made the difference as Barcelona clinched a hard-fought 4-1 win over Real Sociedad on Sunday.
Xavi Hernandez lined his side up in an unusual 3-2-4-1 formation, but the decision paid dividends immediately as Alejandro Balde set Robert Lewandowski up for the opening goal mere seconds into the game. But Real Sociedad did not let Barcelona build on the early strike, hitting back through Alexander Isak after David Silva robbed the ball from Frenkie de Jong.
Barcelona then had Marc-Andre ter Stegen to thank for keeping the score intact at 1-1 going into half-time, with the German goalkeeper making two solid saves. The two teams continued to trade blows after the interval until the game’s final quarter began when Barcelona grabbed the match by the scruff of its neck to seal the three points.
Ansu Fati and Raphinha’s substitutions were the catalysts for the swift turnaround, with the duo combining to set up goals for Ousmane Dembele and Robert Lewandowski in quick succession. Fati then found the back of the net himself when the ball fell kindly to him inside the box.
The result has helped Barcelona climb up the table to the fifth spot after the goalless draw with Rayo Vallecano on the opening weekend. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Xavi’s charges following a hard-fought victory over Real Sociedad at the Reale Arena.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 7/10
Marc-Andre Ter Stegen appreciation tweet! pic.twitter.com/LtCKAkUFKo
— BarçaTimes (@BarcaTimes) August 21, 2022
Marc-Andre ter Stegen could not have done anything to keep out Alexander Isak’s effort for Real Sociedad’s equaliser. But he made a few strong stops to keep his side in the game heading into half-time. The save to deny David Silva stood out. Donning the armband, he produced the kind of display that would make one think that Barcelona’s first-choice goalkeeper might be getting back to his best.
Ronald Araujo: 6/10
Araujo was not called into action much, with Real Sociedad creating most of the plays from the opposite side. The Uruguayan international thus used his opportunities to charge up the field and link up directly with those in the final third. But he still needs a defined role to have a successful season at the back.
Andreas Christensen: 7/10
Christensen played the sweeper role superbly, playing the ball out from the back with precision while holding the backline together. The former Chelsea defender made a few crucial clearances and tackles, helping Barcelona alleviate the danger that Real Sociedad posed. All in all, it was another solid display by the Danish defender.
Eric Garcia: 6.5/10
Garcia will feel he should have done better to stop Isak in his tracks for Real Sociedad’s only goal in the game. But that was his only underwhelming moment in the game, as the Spanish international excelled in a back three. He helped build play from the back smartly while winning almost every duel he contested.
Frenkie de Jong: 6/10
?️ Xavi: “Frenkie de Jong was very good, he was unlucky before Real Sociedad's goal.” pic.twitter.com/72hqrzBPLu
— infosfcb (@infosfcb) August 21, 2022
Frenkie de Jong misplaced only one pass while losing possession around a handful of times. But one such instance saw him give the ball away carelessly to David Silva, who set Isak up for Real Sociedad’s goal. That was his only mistake in the game, but de Jong did not always set a quick tempo after receiving the ball from a centre-back. The summer transfer saga might have had its effect on him.
Gavi popped up all over the pitch and barely lost possession while also playing two key passes. But the young Spaniard was largely underwhelming in the creative sense as he was not decisive enough while moving the ball forward. His performances early in the season are a cause for concern.
Ousmane Dembele: 7/10
Dembele had a game of two phases on Sunday. He was frustrating in the opening hour, where he was one-dimensional and predictable with his moves. But the Frenchman was another player altogether after he switched over to the left flank, scoring a goal after linking up nicely with Ansu Fati. He will hope to build on this performance now.
ANSU FATI WITH THE BEAUTIFUL ASSIST FOR DEMBELE ? pic.twitter.com/VD5hrgcous
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) August 21, 2022
Pedri was not as influential as he can be, but he carried the ball purposefully and created a couple of chances. The young Spaniard also opened up play nicely with some long balls while putting in the hard yards off the ball, winning ten duels. Still, there is a lot of scope for improvement as he continues to get his rhythm.
Ferran Torres: 5/10
Torres struggled to impose himself from a central role and did not look up to the job. The Spanish international did not force the issue or get involved as much as Xavi would have liked. And it was hardly surprising that the Barcelona boss took him off before anyone else, with his replacement making the difference in the end.
Alejandro Balde: 7/10
Xavi chose Balde ahead of Jordi Alba in a damning decision for the latter. And Balde justified the Barcelona manager’s decision by embarking on a lung-busting run that ended with Robert Lewandowski scoring his first competitive goal for the Blaugrana.
After that, the youngster continued to carry a threat from the left wing-back role. And his display might have given Xavi and Barcelona the reason to abandon the search for a left-back after cooling interest in Marcos Alonso.
Robert Lewandowski: 9/10
First Barcelona goal for Robert Lewandowski
Just what he asked for on his birthday ? pic.twitter.com/9vjTmThZ4e
— B/R Football (@brfootball) August 21, 2022
Lewandowski might not have had the best debut last weekend. But the veteran striker celebrated his birthday with a top-class performance in his first away game for Barcelona. The Pole produced his trademark finishes from close range for both goals while showing decent chemistry with Ansu Fati and Dembele. Lewandowski also played his part in the build-up to Fati’s strike.
Ansu Fati: 9/10
Ansu Fati made a remarkable impact off the bench as he showed his creative acumen while setting Dembele and Lewandowski. His link-up with Raphinha was delightful, with the duo engaging in a few give-and-goes. And Fati capped off a brilliant cameo with a goal from close range after the ball fell kindly to him inside the box.
⚠️ | QUICK STAT
Ansu Fati provided two assists in a single match for the first time in his career tonight, setting up both Ousmane Dembélé and Robert Lewandowski.
— SofaScore (@SofaScoreINT) August 21, 2022
Raphinha settled on the right flank after replacing Balde. And while he might not have an assist to show for his efforts, he was instrumental in Barcelona’s charge in the game’s final quarter. The Brazilian international showed promising chemistry with Fati, finding the academy graduate in the build-up to Dembele’s strike and Lewandowski’s second goal.
Jordi Alba: N/A
Alba replaced Dembele with just over 15 minutes left in regulation time. And the Spanish full-back looked determined to keep things simple after a sub-par outing against Rayo Vallecano. He lost the ball just once in his cameo while retaining a 95 per cent passing rate.
Sergi Roberto: N/A
Roberto continued his comeback from injury with another appearance off the bench, and he helped see the game out.
Franck Kessie: N/A
Kessie was a late introduction in place of Gavi and helped see the game out without much of a fuss.